Christmas has a habit of sneaking up on me. Despite preparing for this moment for five weeks, I still feel like it arrived fast. It’s the final chapter in my six-part series—Allie’s Christmas Pudding Chronicles—and ready or not, it’s time to flambé a figgy pudding.
I started this exploration in November, on Stir-up Sunday, fascinated with the festive tradition of a Christmas pudding. If you’re just joining the party, Christmas pudding is a spiced cake-like dessert, composed primarily of dried fruit, bread crumbs, sugar, and fat. It’s commonly made in the UK and various countries including New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. As a person born and raised in the US where dried fruit-laden cakes are often mistrusted and the term “pudding” is reserved for custards, I was looking forward to properly trying out this unfamiliar Christmas treat.
It certainly didn’t disappoint. Every step was an adventure, from soaking the fruit, steaming it, weekly brandy “feedings,” brandy butter (hard sauce), and now, serving it as a ball of flames. There’s a lot to go over in this post. Before you can even think about flambéing, we have to reheat the pudding. Let’s get to it.
Re-steam the pudding
Just when you thought steaming a dessert for five hours seemed strangely thorough, back into the sauna we go. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, also called Stir-up Sunday, I mixed the batter, poured it into a heat-safe glass bowl, wrapped it in a highly detailed fashion with foil, parchment, and kitchen string, and steamed the pudding in a pot for five hours. Well, I had to steam it again, but this time for two hours instead of five.
If you’ve been joining me with your own pudding, a few hours before you plan on serving the pudding, rewrap the bowl and do the same. (Check this post for pictures on how to wrap the bowl and set up the steamer.) The idea of steaming it again is simply to thoroughly reheat the pud without losing moisture. Since the pudding has been “curing” for five weeks, it’s only natural for it to dry out slightly, even if it’s been well covered and bedaubed with brandy on a weekly basis.
While I have read that you can unmold the pudding, wrap it in foil and pop it in the oven to heat for an hour at 300ºF, or alternatively cover it in vented plastic wrap and microwave it for 15 minutes, these options can further dry out the pudding, or worse. (If you’ve ever forgotten a soft roll in the microwave you know what I mean—mummified.) The steamer creates a humid environment with gentle heat. The way I see it, you put all this work in already, why risk ruining it?
As I’ve mentioned in the earlier parts of this series, I’m using Nigella Lawson’s recipe as a guide. Some folks say one hour of steaming is sufficient, and Lawson’s instructions say three hours. While the Christmas pudding is dense, my pudding bowl is more wide than deep, so I steamed it for about 90 minutes.
Unmold the pud
Once the pudding is thoroughly reheated, lift it out of the steamer and let it cool on a wire rack. It should be cool enough to handle but still warm; this took about 20 minutes for me. Put an overturned plate on top of the bowl, and flip both of them so the pudding falls down onto the plate. Remove the bowl and there you have it. Does it look like a mottled big brown blob? Yes. But I know what it really is. A softly steaming spiced pudding speckled with plump fruits and exhaling tablespoons of alcohol.
A few small sections of my pud stuck to the bowl, but it wasn’t catastrophic. I used a rubber spatula to scrape the bits off and stuck them back onto the cake where they belonged. If your cake doesn’t easily dislodge, flip it back right-side up and run a knife around the edge. Sneak a knife or fork down the side toward the bottom. It’s possible the cake is suctioned to the bowl, and making an indentation for air to break the vacuum will help it come out. Peel off the parchment circle on the bottom and top it with a bit of fake holly or some sugared cranberries for presentation.
Flambé and serve
Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann
Traditionally, you flambé a Christmas pudding, but of course you could skip this part and simply slice in. That being said, don’t skip it. It’s so fun. There are a couple ways to safely ignite alcohol, and you can read here for some flambé tips if it’s new to you. I usually heat and light alcohol on the stovetop, but I tried a more low-key method I read about using a candle to flame the pud tableside, so I did what any proud professional does and watched a YouTube video.
There are two steps to lighting alcohol on fire: heat the alcohol to emit more fumes, and light the fumes. Normally with food, you can warm the alcohol in a pan on the stove and then use a lighter or the gas burner to light it. In this case, you set up your station at the dinner table (or the coffee table because that’s apartment life sometimes). Light a candle and put the plated pudding next to it. To flambé, use a high proof alcohol. Somewhere between 80 and 90 proof is ideal, so vodka, rum, or brandy will likely be fine. I used the same Neversink Spirits Orchard Brandy that I’ve been using this whole time to “feed” Li’l Pud.
Bring a metal ladle over to the table, too. Pour the alcohol into it; you only need about 2 or 3 ounces. Hover the ladle over the lit candle and move it around so the alcohol can warm up. I did this for about 20 seconds or so. Then tilt the ladle toward the flame and try to ignite the fumes. It looks pretty easy in the video, however I couldn’t get the flame just right without pouring brandy into my candle. So I needed to bring a lighter over for assistance. I warmed the brandy again over the candle and finally lit the edge of the ladle with the lighter. The blue flames flourished and I poured the ignited brandy onto the Christmas pudding. It’s the closest I’ll get to feeling like a wizard.
The flames extinguish themselves in a matter of seconds but it’s thrilling to witness for that short time. Serve it with the brandy butter you made last week (it only takes a minute to make), and tuck in. I can say with confidence: fruitcake haters can go kick rocks. This is damn good pud. The dried fruit stayed moist, even from soaking so long ago, and the combination I used was sweet but also delivered a nice bit of tangy flavor. The weird greasy smell the beef tallow had (suet didn’t work out) was completely undetectable. Only warming spices and the deep, treacly flavors of molasses and fruit were present. Oh, and the brandy. That weekly anointing absolutely penetrated through the entire pudding, and it makes quite a statement. The texture was light, spongey, and incredibly moist.
I can see why making a Christmas pudding is something to look forward to every year. It’s like an edible way to keep track of the entire holiday season, and I may very well start my own tradition with it. Though I think I’ll cut the recipe in half and make a mini pudding next year—this one will take me a while to get through, but at least I know it’ll keep for weeks. Have a merry Christmas. I hope you enjoyed my Christmas Pudding Chronicles. I certainly did.